Australian Open 2015: Maria Sharapova survives huge scare

By Piers NewberyBBC Sport at Melbourne Park
Maria Sharapova
Maria Sharapova won the Australian Open title in 2008

Maria Sharapova survived a huge scare as she saved two match points to beat world number 150 Alexandra Panova at the Australian Open.

Sharapova, the second seed, hit two forehand winners to keep her hopes alive before overhauling her fellow Russian to win 6-1 4-6 7-5.

Qualifier Panova, 25, has never won a main draw match at a Grand Slam.

She had two points for a 5-1 final-set lead but could not convert as Sharapova won six of the last seven games.

"I was down two breaks in the third. The only belief I had was just try to get into the rallies," said five-time Grand Slam winner Sharapova, 27.

"She served some really good games out there where I didn't have many chances.

A tale of two players
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"When I did, I thought I could put a little more thought into her mind, get those first serves back. I think that was really important.

"I think she became a little bit more tentative in that last game. Of course, based on experience, you lift yourself up both mentally and physically."

The world number two had made it clear before the tournament began that last year's shock fourth-round exit against Dominika Cibulkova still rankled, and that she expected far better this year.

Her campaign nearly ended on day three as she spent two hours and 32 minutes battling past the little-known Panova in temperatures of 32C.

After breezing through the first set, Sharapova was dragged into a battle as her forehand and serve misfired, and Panova began to defend her serve more effectively.

It was the outsider who dominated the opening stages of the decider, and Sharapova was on the brink when she smacked a backhand long to trail 4-1.

Panova was now feeling the nerves, however, her ball toss beginning to wander as she failed to close out the next game from 40-15 and saw her lead cut.

Sharapova will now play either 31st seed Zarina Diyas of Kazakhstan or Slovakia's Anna Schmiedlova

Her chance came in the 10th game when she twice earned match points but Sharapova swatted a forehand return past her on the first, and hit an unplayable cross-court winner on the second.

The Sharapova error count ticked past 50 but there was a sense of inevitability as the 2008 champion held serve easily before breaking for the seventh time to clinch victory.

"I just had to win just another point, she came up with good shots, with the winners," said Panova.

"What could I do? I should play even better or something to keep the momentum. She's a great fighter. She's a great champion. To take it from her, you really need some extra."

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